Computer hackers based in China have launched sustained attacks on the computers of a US Commerce Department technology export office, a department official said.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the attacks had originated from websites registered with Chinese Internet service providers.
Chinese-based hackers, especially in the Chinese province of Guangdong, have mounted systematic efforts to penetrate US government and industry computer networks in order to access secret information, according to computer security experts.
The experts and some US lawmakers believe the attacks are sanctioned by Chinese government agencies.
The attacks on the Commerce Department have been so persistent that the affected office, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), has been forced to replace hundreds of computers and set up a new computer system.
The bureau’s work is sensitive because it supervises US exports of software and technology for commercial and military uses, as well as commodities.
“BIS discovered a targetted effort to gain access to BIS user accounts,” said Richard Mills, a Commerce Department spokesman, without commenting on the origin of the attacks.
“They took a series of immediate action steps to ensure that no BIS data is compromised. We have no evidence that any BIS data has been lost or compromised,” Mills said.
Department officials are concerned about the hacking attacks because the bureau retains sensitive commercial and economic information on US exporters as well as data related to law enforcement records.
In a bid to ramp up security, the bureau has restricted employees’ Internet access to stand alone computers that are not linked to the bureau’s network.
In May, the US government, citing a potential security risk, stopped plans by the State Department to install 16,000 computers manufactured by the Chinese firm Lenovo.
The government squashed the deal with Lenovo after US lawmakers raised opposition to the plan on national security grounds.